For the last couple of decades, we have rested easily in the knowledge that we had virtually eliminated most serious childhood illnesses. No longer did we contend with Measles, Mumps or Rubella. Whooping Cough, Scarlet Fever and even Polio has been relegated to the pages of history. We rejoiced in our modern medicine, knowing we would never have to watch our children suffer the ravaging effects of these wasting diseases. And then, just as we were beginning to forget even the names of our old enemies, they began to strike anew.
The CDC has just issued a warning indicating that we may be in for the worst Whooping Cough epidemic since 1959. Now I know everybody has differing opinions as to the "why" of the recent resurgence of childhood illnesses (most believing that the un-immunizited population is at fault), but I would like to offer another theory.
As our family slogged through the Whooping Cough last fall, I had a lot of time to think about our situation and the possible causes of our predicament. As I looked for immunization patterns in the people we knew who had the Whooping Cough, I was astonished not to be able to find any. One family (with quite a number of children) came down with the illness. Half of their children had been immunized and half of their children hadn't (personal choice). Interestingly, three of their un-immunized children contracted the Whooping Cough and three of their immunized children also fell ill. The other three children where not immunized and did not contract the disease. The mother (who was immunized) had a terrible case (and in fact relapsed) and the father (also immunized) did not contract Whooping Cough. The immunizations appeared to play little to no part in whether the person came down with Whooping Cough. Interesting.
Our family was very similar. Roughly half of us had been immunized and half had not. One of our immunized people had the worst case of all and two of our un-immunized people had a very mild case. Again, interesting. Another thing to note is that we contracted Whooping Cough from some dear friends children, who had, in fact, both been immunized. They were quite ill for months and one even developed Pneumonia.
As I nursed my family through this horrible illness, I thought a lot about the current resurgence of previously eradicated diseases. One thing, in particular, struck me that I think is worth consideration. In the case of Whooping Cough (Pertussis), the disease is caused by a bacteria - Bordetella Pertussis. We know, from the fact that antibiotics become useless from improper and excess use, that bacteria can overcome our modern interventions, rendering them useless and in turn, the bacteria becomes more resilient. That being the case, wouldn't it stand to reason that, perhaps, these crafty little bacteria have found a way around our defenses? Couldn't they have adapted to our immunizations, gotten stronger and redoubled their efforts?
Obviously I am no medical researcher or great scientific mind. My theory may be so far off base as to not even be in the ball park, but, to this little country girl it seems to be just plain, old common sense.
So, what to do. Being the Chief Medical Officer in our family (also known as Mother) I am educating myself on various childhood diseases, learning to recognize the signs and symptoms of disease, storing equipment and medicines needed for diagnostics and treatment and preparing to care for my family in any number of medical emergencies. Does that mean that I have all of my bases covered? No. I wish. There are so many uncertainties in life that it is impossible for me to know everything and be prepared for every eventuality. I do know that dealing with the Whooping Cough made me more aware. It made me unspeakably thankful that I had put pen to paper and came up with "The Prepared Family Guide to Uncommon Diseases". It made me want to further educate myself so that I can properly care for my family. It made me realize that our old enemies haven't really been vanquished, just pushed into hiding, quietly gaining strength.
A few things we learned from our Whooping Cough experience;
- Early diagnosis is key. The quicker you get a nose swab (yuck!) and are prescribed antibiotics, the less severe the illness. The swab is only effective in diagnosing Pertussis in its early stages, when the disease it too far progressed the swab will give a negative test. Although the disease will still run its course, the coughing will be greatly reduced with antibiotics.
- Fluids, fluids, fluids. The mucus buildup with Whooping Cough is horrible. Constant fluids are essential in thinning the mucus, making it easier to expel.
- Changing positions (from horizontal to vertical) causes massive coughing. We found that propping our patients up (almost vertically) while they slept significantly reduced their cough spells.
- Support your coughs. Sir Knight had particularly violent coughing spasms - violent to the point of breaking two ribs. We came to know that placing a pillow around the front of Sir Knight's chest and having him wrap his arms around it while coughing, supporting his diaphragm, greatly reduced the rib pain and may very well have kept him from breaking ribs had we begun the support earlier.
- Pneumonia is a very common complication of Whooping Cough. Regularly taking onion syrup and drinking lots of water (reducing mucus) will help tremendously.
- Cold air triggers coughing spasms. Months after our bought with Whooping Cough a blast of cold air would double us over with coughing fits.
- Take it easy during recovery. After such a long illness, you will be winded and exhausted - expect this and prepare for a long recovery.
Being forewarned is being forearmed. Educate yourself. Prepared. Take the precautions that you deem necessary. Just don't be caught unawares. What was old seems to be new again.